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Early Predictors of Communication Development in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Joint Attention, Imitation, and Toy Play

Abstract

This study investigated the unique contributions of joint attention, imitation, and toy play to language ability and rate of development of communication skills in young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Sixty preschool-aged children with ASD were assessed using measures of joint attention, imitation, toy play, language, and communication ability. Two skills, initiating protodeclarative joint attention and immediate imitation, were most strongly associated with language ability at age 3–4 years, whereas toy play and deferred imitation were the best predictors of rate of communication development from age 4 to 6.5 years. The implications of these results for understanding the nature and course of language development in autism and for the development of targeted early interventions are discussed.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. An unconditional model with both linear and quadratic terms was also run. The quadratic term in this model was not significantly different from zero (coeff. = .001134, std error = .0031, t(59) = .365, P = .716) and showed much less variability than the linear term (variance component: linear term = .34247, quadratic term = .00025), thus the model with the single linear slope was deemed most appropriate for these data.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded by a program project grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disability (U19HD35465), which is part of the NICHD/NIDCD Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism and by a center grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (U54MH066399), which is part of the NIH Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment (STAART) Centers Program. We gratefully acknowledge the contributions of the parents and their children who participated in this study and several other people who made significant contributions to this research: Craig Harris and several undergraduate research assistants.

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Toth, K., Munson, J., N. Meltzoff, A. et al. Early Predictors of Communication Development in Young Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Joint Attention, Imitation, and Toy Play. J Autism Dev Disord 36, 993–1005 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10803-006-0137-7

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Keywords

  • Autism
  • Language
  • Communication
  • Joint attention
  • Imitation
  • Play